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Arena: The Theory Of Molecular Inheritance

The Theory of Molecular Inheritance is the tenth album from UK progressive rock stalwarts Arena, and quite amazingly it features the outfit’s fifth singer. Not many other bands could average one frontman per two full length studio releases and maintain a high standard of output but it would appear that this lot most certainly can.

For album number ten ever presents Mick Pointer (drums) and Clive Nolan (Pendragon keyboard player) are rejoined by long serving guitarist John Mitchell (It Bites, Lonely Robot, Frost*) and bassist Kylan Amos, who has been a part of this band since 2014. Manning the microphone is a chap who needs little if any introduction, Damian Wilson having sung with Landmarq, Threshold (three times!), Rick Wakeman, [Headspace], Maiden United, Ayreon and too many others to mention, along with an interesting solo career. Being honest, when I first heard that Wilson, of who I am a big fan, was the gentleman replacing the equally fabulous Paul Manzi, I wasn’t really 100% certain this would prove to be a marriage made in heaven… oh how wrong I was.

Now, The Theory Of Molecular Inheritance is, as you’ve probably guessed, something of a concept album. The theory in question would appear to be, well, complicated and involved and maybe more so than even most prog rock concept albums. The basis of it is that genius is inside us as part of our very being - our particles - our atoms - our everything. But then we get the theory of entanglement and, well… it’s actually another of our extended SoT team and In The Prog Seat regular who is better placed to explain exactly what’s going on, because Clive Nolan, who is the band’s chief songwriter and lyricist, checked in with none other than Luis Nasser to make sure that the ideas, and the equations you see in the artwork can, in theory, be relied on to make this concept work, and Luis wrote the album’s foreword!

Now, if the artwork style and colours feel familiar, it’s because they were created by David Wyatt who also did the art for the Contagion album back in 2003 (and Pepper’s Ghost in 2005, although the look of that album is completely different). But the biggest news is, of course, the new singer, and after an initial “oh it’s Damian Wilson!” when you first hear his voice, singer and band lock in so tight that I personally never thought about again, other than to marvel at how natural it sounds. And I say that as someone who loves the work of Paul Wrightson, Rob Sowden and Paul Manzi with this band, but Damian might just top the lot. He’s incredible - a story teller, a supreme melodic presence and a powerful vocalist all in one - and having seen the band live recently, he’s already mastered the back catalogue in a manner I hadn’t anticipated.

The overall effect is prime-time Arena; huge melodies, biting riffs, fabulous keyboard playing and the ability to carry you off into their world. I’d say that maybe more than previous albums, it’s John Mitchell’s guitar work that does the heaviest lifting on ‘Theory…’, with the keyboards stepping back just ever so slightly, but don’t fear, Nolan still stamps his authority all over every track. I’d also suggest that Mick Pointer puts in one of his best performances for the band and alongside bassist Kylan Amos, the pair make a tremendous team.

The album is made up of 11 songs and runs to just over an hour, which is kind of the upper edge of where a release’s length should land for me, but there’s no time wasted and things never lag. “Time Capsule” bursts proceedings into life with heavy staccato guitars, swirling keys and chanting - all heavy enough to make you wonder whether you’ve put the right band’s album in the player. Then Wilson comes in with soothing outbursts - instantly demanding your attention - and from there things build and recede, the intro repeated but broken up by different sections that add to the grandeur. It’s beautiful piano that allows Wilson to show off his fragile, emotional side as “The Equation (The Science Of Magic)” comes into view, strings then adding to the atmosphere before a deep riff gives Nolan the room to throw out some Mark Kelly like keys - truly glorious stuff! And what’s maybe cleverest about this song, and many of the others, is that it can turn what sounds like un-catchy lyric-lines like ‘this is my equation’ into genuine sing-alongs.

“Twenty-One Grams” reinforces the point, ringing guitars bolstered by gentle tom work from Pointer in another song that builds from a really subtle beginning into something very special indeed. “Confession” may be short but by harking back to The Visitor era of the band in terms of the way the guitars and keys combine and the vocal weaves between the two, it’s just magnificent. It’s also the shortest song on the album but still one of the most memorable. “The Heiligenstadt Legacy” combines string and piano sections with big riffing guitars and forceful keyboards melodies. It’s more of a mid-tempo burner that in isolation doesn’t quite catch fire, but in terms of the album breaks things up really well as we enter the mid-point of the journey.

As with most of the songs here “Field Of Sinners” starts off with scene setting sounds and a restrained intro before building into something more energetic, although this time there’s an unsettling feel as things progress. “Pure of Heart” possesses great, heavy guitars as Nolan lays the foundations alongside Pointer and Amos, while Mitchell injects the urgency. Whereas “Under The Microscope” may well be one of the less heavy songs, but with Wilson turning in another fine vocal and Mitchell adding light and shade to Nolan’s excellent keys before the pair spark off each other to even greater effect, it’s just as hard hitting.

“Integration” is another track that builds and builds and here it’s Nolan who shines, the keyboard work being superb and anyone who loves the mid-era of this band will adore this piece as it grows into a super-grandiose keyboard workout that Mitchell speckles with guitar colours. It’s glorious! Magnificent! And (whisper it) quite classic Marillion-y and maybe the best song on the album.

Then “Part Of You” brings back the heaviness, the chorus being fabulous, with darting guitars, controlled but pummelling beats and more ear catching keys. And then, just as the opening song did, so the closing “Life Goes On” proves generous in illustrating just how good a singer Damian Wilson is - and the guitar solo might just be the six-string highlight of this entire record. It’s a truly excellent way to close.

Some people I’ve spoken to feel that The Theory… is maybe more prog metal than Arena have been before, but I’d suggest that this album is a slightly heavied up return to the Contagion sound, capturing big bold riffs alongside the much more atmospheric storytelling grandioseness that The Visitor also illustrated so well. After early preconceptions I’d say that the marriage of Arena and Damian Wilson is perfection - he’s the best singer the band has had and this might be their best album to date - and those are both quite the accolades.

Track Listing
1. Time Capsule

2. The Equation (The Science of Magic)

3. Twenty-One Grams

4. Confession

5. The Heiligenstadt Legacy

6. Field of Sinners

7. Pure of Heart

8. Under the Microscope

9. Integration

10. Part of You

11 Life Goes On

Added: December 30th 2022
Reviewer: Steven Reid
Related Link: Arena online
Hits: 1396
Language: english

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